Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Trials and Tribulations of Technology

One of the first things I learned when I stumbled into the world of education (after a stint in the world of corporations) was that when you have a 42 year old building and 21st century technology, things don't always work.

And that's being nice.

The District is building a lot of new buildings, due to our regional population explosion, and all these new buildings come with what they term Model Classrooms. They're awesome. They have document readers, sound systems, DVD players, big fancy screens, you name it. These work wonderfully in the new buildings because the buildings are designed to handle this equipment. Last year I was one of ten teachers in our building to get a Model Classroom (because I happen to be one of the ten teachers that was considered a "tech head" by the administration). This meant that they had to fit all this fancy technology in a room that not only wasn't really wired well, but wasn't even square.

When I came back to my room that August, I discovered that all the wires and hook-ups for the Model Classroom were on one wall, and all my network wires and hubs were on another wall. This is not an ideal situation. No one has ever been able to tell me why this was done this way and everyone that walks into the room, and sees this comments on how "this doesn't make any sense." This meant that my phone and printer were on one side of the room, but my computer and document reader were on another side of the room. In addition, the only way I could get my computer hooked up to the network, was via an airport.

I put in a work order to have a network cord run through the ceiling and dropped down next to the Model Classroom wiring so I could hard wire my computer. I was told by our tech person (who shared us with 3 other buildings so you saw her maybe once a week) that "there' s no way I'm messing with that Model Classroom stuff because I don't know anything about it." Not the answer I needed. I would put in a work order every month or so and was always told that "we don't mess with that Model Classroom stuff, we'll have to contact the vendor." And it never happened.

I ran all of last year on an airport which worked okay (not great, but okay) because I had a Mac computer. It was an Apple airport. They seemed to communicate fairly well. The lab I tended to use was all Macs, so there wasn't any huge problem. Mild problems, yes, but major, no.

And then we got a new Big Wig in Technology and it was decided that we needed to be weened off of Macs and go to Windows systems and all of a sudden there were Dell computers everywhere. Our team got a lab assigned to us (which means one lab for 6 people as we share it with a special ed teacher) and it was a Dell, so when some of us with old computers were issued new ones, we could go with Dells or Macs, our choice. Mr. Social Studies and I, who were both used to Windows systems, went with the Dells. We quickly learned that most of our technology staff knew nothing about Windows operating systems or Dell computers, so we were left hanging quite a bit of the time. Not a good situation. About the only good thing I noticed was that our former tech rep apparently refused to work on Dells as well and was no longer with the District.

Keep in mind this is the same technology department who told us not to plug anything in at the beginning of the year because they'd send around "experts" to help us...and they screwed up the network.

It rapidly became apparent that running these Dell computers off of an Apple airport didn't work very well at all. Getting an internet connection was tricky in the first place, and then it tended to drop off several times during a basic 45-minute class period. This drives the kids absolutely nuts. They'd be working on something like Study Island (which is an awesome program) and they'd be in the middle of a game and they'd lose their connections. When you only have 45 minutes to do something, and you spend well over half of that trouble-shooting technology, even the kids tend to not want to use the computers. We were told by the Tech Department that we needed Cisco routers and they were on order and they were coming.

In the meantime, I was having major computer issues with my Dell. Because I was still running off an airport I was losing connections every period. My email wouldn't work. I couldn't use some of my favorite websites that I teach with, like Brainpop because the connection would be so weak, even though the airport was in my room. In order to get anything to work, I had to reboot my computer at least once a period, sometimes twice. And, yet again, I was putting in work orders to get a network cable run through the ceiling and dropped down to where I have to have my computer station because of the Model Classroom wiring. This time I actually had new tech reps who said it could be done, but it had to be done by an outside vendor and they'd put me on the list.

And then they'd close my work order saying the work was completed.

And no one ever came and fixed the problem.

So, I did another work order. And they'd close it. And another, and they'd close it. (See the pattern here?). One of them finally told me to stop doing the work orders because I was "on the list." I found out from Mrs. Talladega, who teaches our technology kids (groups of students who do some computer repairs and maintenance in the building and who, in my opinion, know quite a bit more than the tech reps actually hired by the District) that the reason they kept closing my work order was because they get in trouble when there's one there for more than 5 days. Considering I've been issuing work orders on this same problem since August of 06, I'm sure they weren't happy. Mrs. Talladega had seen all my work orders (she reviews them to see if we can solve it in-house or bump it up to District) and she was as frustrated with the situation as I was.

Finally, last week, I lost it. I couldn't show a Brainpop video for a review, I couldn't get my emails (was expecting one from a parent that was pretty important), and I had just had it. I sent Mrs. Talladega an email telling her to find a 40 foot network cord and I'd wire the damn thing myself.

The next morning I arrive at 6:15 to find the Guidance Goober (the biggest computer geek head I know) in my room, running an network cable through the ceiling for me.

"I got sick and tired of waiting for the Technology Department to do this, so I'm doing it myself, even though we aren't supposed to," he said. He had me hooked up and running by the time the kids rolled in that morning, and now I even have a phone on my desk (and not across the room). I have a good connection. I haven't had to reboot my computer a single time. I can show a Brainpop.

The Guidance Goober is a treasure. I know he's frustrated by the limitations we currently have with technology as we've both discussed blogging and wikis for the kids which is something we'd like to do in the future once we have the capability. He's actually testing out some things along these lines (on his own, mind you) and hopefully we'll be able to get something in place soon. Of course, my kids, as long as we don't have the Cisco routers which are supposed to solve all the world's problems, will still have the same connection issues I had with the airports, so I guess it's all a moot point until we can actually connect. It's frustrating.

Mrs. Talladega, The Guidance Goober, and I, however, have a little game going. We're placing bets on when the District tech people get to their "list" and actually come out to wire my room. I'm guessing April.


HappyChyck said...

Indeed the woes! At my last school there was always something going wrong with technology, and it would always be the dumbest stuff that when EASILY resolved--by the tech person--would fix a multitude of problems. However, it would take months, or I would just stop using technology. Trying to bandage it together took up too much precious instructional time.

At my current school, the technology works very well most times (and we are not weaning ourselves from Mac, thank you very much) but my first class of the day has seen far too many technology tantrums from me. As a teacher using technology, I think it's important to be able to troubleshoot your own problems and when that fails, be able to teach on the fly without technology when it absolutely fails you. Your post is an honest reality for many educators using technology--or trying to!

Mrs. T said...

And those teachers who are not so techno savvy look at situations like this and say "THIS is why I don't use technology."
I think it would be funny if Guidance Goober submitted a bill to the district for his time and expertise.

teachergirl said...

I teach in a trailer. Two years ago, the carper cleaning people cut the lines connecting my network box off the wall so that when I returned in August, I had no internet connection whatsoever. The carpet cleaners and the school district fought until OCTOBER over who was going to pay to have the thing fixed. It took about two minutes to fix it and they argued for nine weeks. I had nothing. NOTHING. I went inside and had to use a library computer for NINE WEEKS. I nearly lost my mind.

Kieran said...

Hi,if you can get the technology problems worked out, here is a site you might be able to use

NYC Educator said...

Wow. What a nightmare. Our school is in a different situation entirely. First, they hard-wired every classroom in the building for internet access. Then, they added wi-fi, so we wouldn't have to mess with all those inconvenient wires.

Unfortunately, as yet there are no computers in any of the classrooms.

Jane said...

I feel your pain! This is the first year in the 5 years at this school that I have working computers and the thrill of reliability is something I had completely forgotten about!

I wouldn't let anyone from the district near a working system! But one way to get them there pronto would be to let them know that the problem is solved. Then they will come out to see if it is "up to code" and promptly mess with it.

EHT said...

I feel your pain. I have often connected and wired things myself as well.

I say they will finally visit your room to take care of things in June.